Medical groups are quite confident they will have eradicated the year-2000 bug from their computers by Dec. 31. But few groups are ready now.
Only 11% of medical groups surveyed by the American Medical Group Association say they are Y2K ready, meaning their computer systems will smoothly make the transition from 1999 to 2000. However, nearly 96% of medical groups said they would be ready by Dec. 31.
The AMGA's survey covered about half its 230 member groups, which consist of 45,000 physicians. The association primarily represents large medical groups, and the practices that responded comprise an average of nearly 200 physicians each. The survey was sent to member groups in March, and the association announced its results May 12.
AMGA Chief Executive Officer Donald Fisher says the survey data show that association members are working aggressively to combat Y2K concerns.
The so-called Y2K bug refers to computers and technical equipment that, to save space for more data, were programmed to use only two digits to recognize the year. When the calendar hits 2000, the "00" will be recognized as 1900. Early tests of equipment at some hospitals revealed that many programs will lose data or suffer other problems at the millennium.
Despite the AMGA's confidence, many physician groups probably won't have the bug eradicated by Dec. 31, says Chris Rossman, chair of the healthcare department for Detroit law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn.
Rossman, whose firm represents 30 physician groups nationwide, says many practices are having trouble finding the money to fix the problem, which can entail reprogramming systems or buying new ones. He says he knows of at least one physician group in the Southwest that is trying to ally with a hospital system to pay for Y2K compliance.
"They basically have no choice but to upgrade and purchase something that's Y2K compliant," Rossman says. "But you can't wait till December. And you can't stop billing. You have to find a source of financing."